St. Louis area firefighters address PTSD - KMOV.com

St. Louis area firefighters address PTSD

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Firetrucks (Credit: KMOV) Firetrucks (Credit: KMOV)
ST. LOUIS, Mo. (KMOV.com) -

They are the heroes that go running into a burning building when everyone else is running the other way. While we see our firefighters as strong and fearless, many of them are fighting a silent battle. Now, the International Association of Firefighters (IAFF) is working to address post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) among its own.

"Every story you see on the evening news has a human component to it and often times that human component exposes a pretty dark and ugly underbelly of our society," said Kurt Becker, District Vice President of IAFF Local 2665. "Every single one of those stories has a group of first responders who endured going through that situation so others could live their lives."

During the span of a career, those experiences compile into a sometimes dark trauma.

According to IAFF, 20 percent of firefighters are dealing with PTSD, the same level as combat veterans and twice the rate of the general public.

"We need to, as an industry and society, recognize the sacrifices and toll that takes on those people and make sure we get them the resources they need to address pretty significant issues that are associated with stress," said Becker.

In St. Louis, Local 2665 leaders said the stress has been especially devastating.

"Over the last five to 10 years, I've buried three of my close friends; firefighters, paramedics in the metro area that took their own lives. These were young people at the prime of their life that got to the end of their rope," said Becker.

The first step to addressing the issue is talking about it.

"Let them know that there is no shame in having this conversation. We are trying to pull back the curtain and bring this situation out of the darkness and remove some of the stigma associated with these behavior health disorders," said Becker.

Local firefighters are leading the way in a national pilot program.

Starting Monday, Local 2665 is hosting a peer-support training program. Two dozen members will go through the two-day program, where they will learn about suicide prevention and crisis intervention. Then, they'll reintegrate back into fire houses to watch out for their own.

"We need people that really understand how to defuse those situations and how to identify people that are having problems above and beyond what’s normal and can intervene with those folks in a way that’s non-threatening so we can get them the help they need without making them feel defensive," said Becker.

There is also a national effort to help firefighters. A specialized behavior health center is being built in Prince George County, Maryland. It will provide diagnosis, peer counseling, and treatment to IAFF members, including those here in the St. Louis area. It is slated to open in 2017.

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